How to back up Android devices: The complete guide

‘Twas a time not so long ago when backing up an Android phone was a massive, migraine-inducing undertaking.

It’s true: A mere matter of years back in our mobile device saga, a proper Android backup required physical computer connections, complicated third-party software and more than a few adult beverages.

But my, what a difference a few years makes. These days, backing up an Android device and keeping your data synced takes little to no actual effort. Most of the work happens seamlessly and automatically, behind the scenes — either without any involvement on your behalf or with a one-time opt-in when you first set your phone up. And restoring your data is typically as simple as signing into a device and letting Google’s systems work their magic.

Still, your data is important, especially if you use your phone for business. With all the stuff we tend to have on our phones (or at least accessible from our phones), it’s worthwhile to know where and how everything’s being saved. That way, you can understand what’s happening and confirm it’s all functioning as intended — and the next time you need to move to a new device, you can rest easy knowing your data will be there and ready.

Here’s a section-by-section breakdown of Android’s backup systems and how they operate.

General settings and preferences

When you powered up your Android device for the first time, you probably signed in with your primary Google account. This is critical — because that same account is your key to the vast majority of your automatically backed up data.

On the system level, that includes most of your Android settings and preferences — everything from approved Wi-Fi networks and passwords to your language and input settings, date and time settings, and display preferences. With Google’s own core Android setup, you can confirm all of that’s being backed up by going into the System section of your phone’s settings and tapping “Backup.”

On Samsung phones, things are a little more complicated. Once in your system settings on any Galaxy gadget, you’ll tap the Accounts and Backup section and then select “Back up data” under the “Google Drive” heading. Samsung confusingly offers the option to back up your data to its own service, too (via your Samsung account). Disregarding that and going with the standard, Google-associated setup is the most advisable option, though, as that’ll allow you to restore your data to any phone you might use in the future — whereas Samsung’s superfluous setup will work only with other Samsung-made products.

However you get there, once you’re on that Google-associated backup screen, you should see an active toggle next to “Backup by Google One,” and above that, you’ll see the Google account that’s associated with all of your system backups. Make sure you use that same account when signing into any devices in the future — and if you ever need to change which account is associated with your backups, just tap the line showing the account on this same screen. That’ll bring up a list of all the Google accounts connected to your phone, and you can select whichever one you want to take over.

Slightly lower on that same screen, you’ll find a breakdown of the specific types of data connected to your device and when they were last backed up.

android backup settings JR Raphael / IDG

You can monitor and control your phone’s system-level backups from right within your Android device’s settings.

Typically, your phone will perform a backup automatically anytime it’s connected to Wi-Fi and charging without activity for at least two hours. You can also, however, manually initiate a backup by pressing the Back Up Now button in the center of that screen.

Apps and app data

The list of apps you’ve installed from the Play Store is always synced with Google’s servers, and when you first sign into any new Android device, you’ll be given the opportunity to restore that complete set of applications or to cherry-pick certain titles from within the list — either via a physical cable connection to your previous Android device or by tapping into Google’s cloud-based backup. If you’ve had more than one Android device active on your account recently, you can also choose which specific device you want to use as the source.

Beyond that, Google provides an expanded app backup system that saves and restores app-specific data — everything from sign-ins to preferences and any other relevant elements from within your actual apps. It’s worth noting that the system requires some level of integration and support on the developers’ parts, though, so it works more effectively with some apps than others.

Calendar, contacts, and email

Backing up these business-critical areas is actually quite easy — because nowadays, almost all calendar, contact, and email data is inherently cloud-based (or at the very least cloud-connected). In other words, you don’t have to back up your phone’s email or calendar data because it’s already stored in the cloud; you can simply open the email or calendar app from another device to retrieve it.

(Google’s own email and calendar apps — Gmail and Google Calendar, respectively, both of which come preinstalled on many phones and are readily available for anyone to download — store data with Google’s servers by default but can also work with Exchange and other third-party accounts. You can add third-party accounts directly into the Gmail app; with Exchange, once your account is added into Gmail, it should then show up in Google Calendar as well.)

The one asterisk worth mentioning is contacts, as some manufacturers and even carriers provide their own interfaces for organizing contact information — and those interfaces don’t always sync with Google’s Contacts system by default. Suffice it to say, this isn’t ideal: If your data is set to sync with, say, Samsung’s system instead of Google’s, you’ll be in a pickle if you ever try to sign into a phone made by anyone else in the future (or even if you simply want to access your contact info from any non-Samsung device). Similarly, if your contact data is being stored only on the device’s local storage or SIM card by default, you’re asking for trouble down the line.

Go into your phone’s Contacts app and look in its settings to see if there’s any option for where your contacts are being synced or stored. The specifics vary from one device to the next, depending on the manufacturer and carrier — but often, when a company puts its own solution in place of Google’s, it’ll offer you the ability to switch to Google’s Contacts system if you want.

You can also simply switch over to using the Google-made Contacts app, which will give you the most fully featured and universally accessible setup possible — with easy instant access to your info anytime, on any device where you sign in, including a computer.


Backing up and saving your messaging data so you can restore it on a future phone is generally pretty painless on Android.

In a change from the recent past, Google now automatically backs up all SMS and MMS data from all Android devices via its Google One service. This happens regardless of who made your phone or what messaging app you’re using — and regardless of whether you’re paying for an upgraded Google One plan, too — so long as SMS and MMS are involved. (This wouldn’t apply, in other words, to services like Slack or WhatsApp, which are not SMS- or MMS-based and instead maintain their own entire platforms with backups built in.)

Still, sometimes, all of your messages won’t properly restore when you first sign into a new phone. In such instances, a third-party utility called SMS Backup & Restore provides a simple way to manually back up all of your messaging data from an old device and then restore it onto a new one.


The easiest way to keep files on your device backed up is to save them directly to a cloud-based storage service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. All of those services provide a reasonable amount of free storage — with additional space available for a nominal monthly or annual fee — and all of them make it simple to access files from your device whether you’re online or not.

If you’d rather store files locally on your Android phone, snag an app called Autosync, which is available for use with Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, and Box. It’ll let you continuously sync folders on your phone with matching folders on whichever cloud storage service you choose — and once you set it up, you’ll never have to think about it again.

backup android phone autosync JR Raphael/IDG

AutoSync allows you to keep specific local folders continuously synced with cloud-based equivalents.

AutoSync is free for use with a single synced folder pair and with files smaller than 10MB in size. You can eliminate those restrictions (and also eliminate some irksome ads within the app’s setup interface) by making a one-time $5 in-app upgrade.

Photos and music

OK, so they aren’t technically work-related — but even if you use a business-connected phone, odds are you’re taking some pictures and listening to the occasional hackle-soothing jam.

Thankfully, keeping your photos and music backed up is a fairly thought-free process at this point. On the photos front, Google’s excellent Google Photos app will automatically sync every image and video you take and make it available on any other device — mobile or otherwise. The associated space does count against your overall Google storage quota, but Photos has an option to compress both images and videos considerably and without much noticeable impact, which can help keep things from getting too unwieldy.

And for music, the free YouTube Music service lets you upload your entire personal audio collection — up to 100,000 songs, in the MP3, FLAC, M4A, OGG, or WMA format — and then access it from any Android device within the app or from any computer via the YouTube Music website.

Or, of course, you can just stick to whatever streaming service you like and listen away without a worry in the world.

This article was originally published in August 2017 and most recently updated in January 2024.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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